JERUSALEM (Jan. 24)
Government officials denied any knowledge today of a report in a British publication that Israel’s relations with Ethiopia have improved of late to the point where Israeli advisors have replaced Soviet and East German experts working with the head of the Marxist regime, Menghistu Haile Mariam, in Addis Ababa.
The report appeared in “Foreign Report,” a subsidiary of the London Economist and was featured in Haaretz today. It said that Israel’s defense links with Ethiopia, which were close during the reign of the late Emperor Haile Salassie. have been restored.
Danny Weinreich, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that he “knew nothing” of the report. The Foreign Ministry also disclaimed knowledge.
ELEMENTS IN THE REPORT
According to the report, the thaw in relations with Ethiopia began last November after the Ethiopian army failed in an assault on rebels in Eritrea. There has been a general improvement of ties with Israel and a possibility that aviation links will be restored between Tel Aviv and Addis Ababa, the report said. It spoke of Israelis replacing East Germans as military intelligence advisors and of Israelis now filling roles in the central government and in Menghistu’s personal bodyguard.
Although the government seems to be dismissing these reports, some observers here found them credible in view of the fact that Israelis have been permitted to visit Ethiopia recently after being barred from that country for years. Another indication of substance is the sudden, marked change in public statements here on the condition of the Falashas, Ethiopian Jews.
A team of Israeli social workers who visited the Gondar region where somewhat less than half the Falasha live, reported at a press conference here last Thursday that their situation was no worse than that of the rest of the rural population and that they are not subjected to official harassment and maltreatment. On the other hand, a Knesset member also recently returned from Ethiopia described the plight of the Falashas as “very bad.” (See separate story P. 4.)
During the Haile Salassie regime, Israel maintained close ties with Ethiopia, including military links which were rarely publicized. Israel regarded Ethiopia, along with Turkey and Iran under the Shah as key links in a “peripheral” alliance of mutual interests on the fringes of the Middle East. The three countries are non-Arab and, until the fall of the Shah and Salassie, were pro-Western in their orientation.
Sources here said that even after the Ethiopian Emperor was deposed, Israel continued to have secret military links with that country. But these lapsed in the late 1970′s and a period of total estrangement set in.